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Down to Earth With: Steven Stanley

It’s no wonder Steven Stanley says he can’t imagine having pursued any career other than research and teaching in geology and paleontology. After studying under eminent scientists like Alfred Fischer, Colin Pittendrigh and Harry Hess while a student at Princeton and then Yale in the 1960s, Stanley went on to add many of his own paradigm-shifting contributions to our understanding of fossils, evolution and Earth’s environmental history. He has also authored several popular textbooks and has won numerous awards, including the prestigious Mary Clark Thompson Medal from the National Academy of Sciences in 2006 and, most recently in 2013, the Geological Society of America’s (GSA) highest honor, the Penrose Medal.
 

24 Jun 2014

Down to Earth With: Martin Lockley

Shortly after a young Martin Lockley — a British paleontologist specializing in marine fossils — arrived in Denver in 1980 to begin a new job as a geology professor at the University of Colorado (CU), a student asked if he would like to check out some interesting dinosaur tracks. The tracks were located near the town of Gunnison, Colo., about four hours southwest, on the ceiling of an underground coal mine. Lockley and the student drove down to the site, and, agreeing that the impressions in the rock were tracks but not knowing much about them, Lockley carefully documented the site. At the time, little scientific literature existed on ancient tracks, so after publishing the information, Lockley — much to his own surprise — immediately became known as a dinosaur track expert.

17 Jun 2014

Geomedia: Books: Science in fiction

As a science magazine, EARTH usually reviews nonfiction. This month, however, we are bringing you reviews of three recent novels with scientific themes that might make nice additions to your summer reading list. The three novels fall neatly into classic genres — the murder mystery, the high-stakes thriller and the science-infused fantasy — so hopefully there is a little something for everyone. Warning: spoilers follow.
 

17 Jun 2014

Geomedia: Books: The earth system symphony

The planet is a symphony played by the orchestral sections of the atmosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere and biosphere, each of which includes many instruments. However, teasing out the myriad relationships in the concerto that is the earth system is daunting. Not only do the scales involved range from planetary to microscopic, but our observational records are also relatively short, and some features are inherently chaotic. Just understanding the basics of any one of the major components can take a lifetime.

17 Jun 2014

Pike's Peak

The 4,300-meter-tall peak that Zebulon Pike first spied in November 1806 was already known to Native Americans, as well as Spanish settlers, who called it El Capitán. Pike first dubbed it Grand Peak, but by the mid-19th century, the name Pike’s Peak (later Pikes Peak) had begun to stick.

16 Jun 2014

Benchmarks: June 16, 1963 & June 18, 1983: Valentina Tereshkova and Sally Ride become first and third women in space

On June 16, 1963, during the height of the Cold War, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to fly in space. It would be 19 years before another woman would fly in space — Soviet Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982 — and 20 years before the first American woman, Sally Ride, made it into space on June 18, 1983. These pioneers inspired the generations of women astronauts who followed. In the three decades since Ride’s foray into outer space, 57 other women have also taken flight (see sidebar) and, last year, half of NASA’s new class of astronauts were women.

16 Jun 2014

By the numbers: Women in space

The first two women in space — Valentina Tereshkova and Svetlana Savitskaya — were from the Soviet Union. Since their pioneering space flights, 58 other women have also flown in space.

16 Jun 2014

Geomedia: Books: A changing literary climate

Climate fiction, or cli-fi, is a new literary genre. Using climate science as a launching pad, these books, films, poetry and other media imagine life on a planet altered by human activity. The genre is still a niche but becoming more common as climate change has captured popular attention.

09 Jun 2014

Down to Earth With: Scott Sampson

During a recent public lecture at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, dinosaur paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Scott Sampson was making a point as he walked up the aisle when a preschooler charged the stage, grabbed hold of his leg and wouldn’t let go until her mother retrieved her.
 

19 May 2014

Benchmarks: May 6, 1852: Edward Sabine links the geomagnetic and sunspot cycles

At the beginning of the 19th century, little was understood about Earth’s magnetic field, but interest in its workings had begun to grow, especially in Europe. That the magnetic field exists had long been recognized, and magnetic compasses had aided in navigation for centuries, particularly at sea where fixed landmarks are hard to come by. Not surprisingly, the increased attention emerging around the turn of the century came from naval and shipping interests, which recognized that an accurate understanding of the field’s behavior would be a boon to their fleets.

By this time, the underlying physical explanation for the magnetic field had also become a major source of scientific curiosity. In the preceding two centuries, observers had measured differences in the field’s intensity, inclination and declination — the angle between magnetic and true north — between locations, as well as changes in those properties at the same location, both over varying lengths of time. Others had noted the synchronized occurrence of colorful atmospheric auroras with widespread disturbances in the magnetic field, termed magnetic storms.

It was clear the planet’s magnetic field was an inconstant and complex phenomenon, and many eminent scientists saw it as the next great natural mystery to unravel.

13 May 2014

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